Opinion | Our nation is healing, but our work isn’t done

By Julia Kreutzer, Senior Staff Columnist

I’ve been thinking a lot about Hillary Clinton’s walks in the woods after her defeat in the 2016 presidential election, when pictures of her in a tree-lined trail in Chappaqua, New York, went viral. I’m reminded of the grieving women who posted accounts of their emotional interactions on Facebook. I’ve rewatched the Saturday Night Live skit that sarcastically compared her to Bigfoot retreating to the woods for cover.

What the past week — and insight from Clinton’s 2017 memoir “What Happened” — taught me, though, is that her beeline to the woods was not a retreat so much as a search for calm. And it seems many of us have been, figuratively or literally, walking the same trail.

For the past four years, many of us have taken one of two paths — a fiery, often treacherous journey to stand up to Trump, or a quiet trek through the woods, focusing on the hard work of personal growth and reconciliation in the face of real grief and pain. Perhaps, like me, you’ve tried to walk them both. And now, finally, it feels like these paths are leading us to a break in the trees.

When the news broke on Saturday that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had surpassed the golden number of 270 projected electoral votes, it felt like the trees began to part and I could finally emerge from the dark woods that have surrounded me for years. It feels like we can see the edge of the woods. We finally have some light. Despite this, there is still work to do to mend the deep divides in our country, to heal the communities whose honest desperation led them to a candidate like Trump, to show up for the people of color who overwhelmingly showed up for a party that doesn’t always do the same for them. Biden’s election sure feels good, but it doesn’t mean the fight is over.

I can’t help but wonder if Clinton could have imagined this outcome — one where the most voters in any election ever came out to overwhelmingly support a candidate whom most did not feel overwhelmingly excited about — when she made her concession speech in 2016.

“This is painful and it will be for a long time,” she said in 2016. “But I want you to remember this. Our campaign was never about one person or even one election, it was about the country we love and about building an America that’s hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted.”

And damn, it was painful. And it felt like salt was being poured in this wound again and again with each tweet, each transphobic policy enacted, each sexual assault allegation, each appointment of a conservative justice and every international alliance threatened. Over the past several years, I worried I’d lose my ability to get health care as a young adult, to make choices about my own body, to find work without fear of being fired for some minute facet of my identity, to get married.

But this pain was and still is being felt all across America, in both blue and red counties. People are scared about their ability to put food on the table. Queer people fear ostracization from their families and employers. Black people fear being killed by police officers. People are watching their family and friends die of COVID-19. People are still unable to get back to work. The Trump administration’s inability to unite the country has kept so many Americans — both people who voted for him and those who vehemently opposed him — in the woods, left with festering wounds.

Do I think Biden will take America to the place I want it to be? Not necessarily.

Do I think he will help mend some of these wounds? Absolutely.

America is experiencing a collective exhale. The country has been holding its breath during the entirety of this divisive, frightening time. Regardless of whether the stock market was thriving, the majority of Americans were not.

Biden’s victory is as symbolically significant as it is a tangible step toward a less tumultuous future. Harris’ historic victory, as the daughter of immigrants, the first female vice president, first Black vice president and the first vice president of South Asian descent, means something to little girls watching from home, especially from marginalized communities. The support for this ticket means something to queer communities who have been tokenized by the same administration who makes them less safe. The overwhelming majority with which Biden won means something to people who have felt alone for the past four years.

And most importantly, with this healing comes the opportunity to work toward a greater future.

This win has energized a nation. People turned out in huge numbers — to the polls, to watch the results and then to celebrate. The Biden-Harris administration’s task now becomes keeping this majority by fulfilling what our president-elect calls the American people’s “mandate.” All of us have to fight to aid this effort.

This means working to mend the divisions in our Congress to pass essential legislation, like stimulus relief. This means showing up for marginalized communities, particularly the Black women to whom Democrats owe this victory. This means, first and foremost, getting COVID-19, which is currently more prevalent than it was during the stricted stay-at-home orders in March and April, under control.

So yes, we are not “out of the woods” completely. There is still so much to be done. But we no longer have to retreat to get some air. We can fight for a greater future without the impending darkness surrounding us. We can see the light and move fervently toward it. If Hillary can finally come out of the woods, so can we.

Julia is a junior studying political science, english writing and theater arts. She writes primarily about social issues. Write to Julia at [email protected].